Roger Federer's No. 1 In Line Next: Cincinnati Masters & US Open

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Roger Federer's No. 1 In Line Next: Cincinnati Masters & US Open
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

On the one hand, you have Cincinnati Masters going on, and, on the other, Roger Federer's No.1 position could be on the line come US Open. It happened to Rafael Nadal, who lost his No. 1 on July 6 and No. 2 on August 17 this year, within a month and half. I am trying to find a balance here between "could be happening" and "is happening," so bear with me. 

To begin with historical facts, only Michael Chang ('93, '94) and Andre Agassi ('95, '96) have defended Cincinnati Masters. Andy Roddick (2003) and Patrick Rafters (1998) are the only players to win Canada, Cincinnati Masters, and US Open in the same year, since the Master Series came into existence in 1990. Andre Agassi in 1995 and Patrick Rafter in 1998 also achieved the feat of winning Canada and Cincinnati masters back-to-back. That year, Agassi won Washington, Canada, Cincinnati, New Haven, but lost in the USO final to Pete Sampras. Rafter won Canada, Cincinnati, Long Island, and US Open (losing New Heaven in between).

With that, the first section ponders over how the Cincinnati draw has shaped up for the top four seeds after three days since the tournament kicked off. Then, in the remainder, after an attempt to lay out the five statistical scenarios in which Andy Murray has a shot at taking over the No. 1 mantle by the end of the US Open, I have compiled Murray and Federer's exchange of oral jabs at each other, which started in 2008, Dubai.

Federer

Federer is the top seed in Cincinnati for a tournament record sixth time.

After Roddick's straight set loss to fellow American Sam Querrey on Wednesday, Murray is the only hottest player in Federer's half. Although the draw looked tough at the beginning, it is shaping up nicely for the Swiss, who beat Jose Acasuso, in the opening round, without dropping a set and without getting a service broken.  In the third round, Federer will face David Ferrer (Federer leads 8-0), who defeated Marin Cilic on Tuesday evening.

In the quarterfinals, Federer will play the winner of Querrey and Lleyton Hewitt, who defeated Robin Soderling in a close contest on Tuesday.

Murray has been fearless and possesses a better head-to-head match records against the Swiss, 6-2, including the last four times on hard court.

Is Federer going to be motivated enough to level his head- to-head meetings with Murray, or at least see where the Scott's game is?

Recently, Federer fans have not been too happy about his lack of motivation to win the Masters tournaments, compared to majors. At this stage of his career, should he be more motivated about the Masters? His wins at the Masters right before the Slams have produced some good results in the past, but they are not any indicator for his performance in the Slams. He won Madrid Masters right before winning the French Open this year and he won Cincinnati Masters in 2007 right before the US Open. But he has won more Slams without winning a Masters that lead to the Slams. One could say Federer is just a Slam monster, so he may not need motivation from winning a Master series.

In an interview on Wednesday, Federer looked into the future.

“Obviously this is just sort of just right before the US Open, so this is where my focus is on. I'd love to finish No. 1 in the world at the end of this year. So far I just wanted to see how it feels to be a dad and get through the US Open and hopefully play very well over there, and then sort of make up my mind how it goes."

Nadal

Although his shots were still off the mark, Nadal slugged it through a tight match against Andreas Seppi in the opening round on Wednesday. He will face Paul-Henri Mathieu in the third round, who defeated big-serving Ivo Karlovic today.

After Philipp Kohlschreiber, Fernando Gonzalez, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's exits,  Nadal's quarter has suddenly become a lot easier. However, Tomas Berdych, if he defeats Guccione, could turn out to be explosive for Nadal in the quarter finals (Nadal leads 4-3, but Berdych leads 3-1 on hard court).

By the time Nadal meets Novak Djokovic or whoever in the semifinal, the Spaniard should be amply match-grooved to make a push for the title run. However, in the post-match interview on Wednesday, the Spaniard dd not sound very hopeful of his prospects.

"Here the ball is fast and the ball is not getting bit topspin, so it's tough. It's difficult conditions for me. My results here in this tournament say that. It's not easy tournament for me."

If, by chance, Nadal wins the Cincinnati title, his confidence will be back. Once his rhythm is back, provided his knees stay firmly loyal to his ambition, he will be a contender for the US Open. That may look a rosy picture for now, though. 

Murray

Murray, the defending champion, is 9-3 lifetime in Cincinnati and 31-2 on hard courts this year. After Juan Martin del Potro's withdrawal, Murray's draw has eased out by half. He beat Nicolas Almagro in his opening round and will next play the unpredictable Radek Stepanek (Murray leads 2-0) who beat Marat Safin on Wednesday.

Murray's only seeded opponent until the quarterfinals was Fernando Verdasco, who lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Tuesday. This has made the draw still easier for the Scot. Apparently, Murray is not likely to have any problem getting past the winner of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and lucky loser Julien Benneteau, in the quarter finals.

In summary, Murray will be cruising to the semifinal, with another opportunity to defeat Federer, which will ensure his No. 2 for the US Open seeding. After del Potro and Verdasco's exits, it all looks more tempting for Murray to go for the title at this point.

Will Murray want to go deeper and win the title here? In a sense, he is in similar dilemma to Nadal's last week, but with better physical conditioning and preparation, he may go for it. Let's say Murray sees Nadal making stronger move to the title. Should the Scot try to hold on to his ranking by reaching the semifinal or better? Will that have adverse effect on his Slam ambition? Do you remember what happened at the Olympic last year after Murray's stellar performance at these two tournaments, Canada and Cincinnati? He lost in the first round to Yen-Hsun Lu, a 77th-ranked player.   If you recall the historical facts I provided above, only two players have achieved this feat of winning all three titles in the same year. Is Murray going to be strategical or is he going to wear foolhardy, "I-am-superman" posture and go for all three?

Djokovic

Last year's finalist Djokovic's draw looked relatively generous from the beginning and has remained about the same after three days. He passed the opening round test by defeating Ivan Ljubicic on Wednesday. His third round opponent is Jeremy Chardy, who defeated John Isner. Chardy is up-and-coming young gun, against whom the Serb will have to play his best to avoid an upset. If the Serb gets past Chardy, he will meet the winner of Nikolay Davydenko and Gilles Simon in the quarter finals. Winning over one of these top ten players will boost Djokovic's confidence. And we know he can play high class tennis, if he plays freely with confidence. 

He probably prefers Nadal over Federer, Murray, and Roddick, especially on hard court. The Serb can stop Nadal and will have a shot at the title, no matter who he meets in the final, again, if he serves well and his shots are flying. Even though he has not been the same player since the end of last year, I am not going to rule him out in this tournament, though he may not be going to be a big factor in the US Open beyond the quarter finals or semifinals.

Can Federer stop Murray from becoming the No. 1 by the end of the US Open? 

Let's look at a couple of scenarios that Murray can oust Federer in.

(1) If Murray wins both Cincinnati Masters and US Open, and if Federer loses in the Cincinnati quarter finals and the US Open final, Murray will have 10,850 ranking points and Federer will have 10,420 points. Murray becomes the No. 1.

(2) If Murray reaches the Cincinnati final and wins the US Open title, and if Federer's results remain the same as above,  Murray will have 10,450 and becomes the No. 1.

(3) If Murray reaches the Cincinnati semifinal and wins the US Open title, and if Federer reaches the semifinals of both events, Murray will earn 10,210, and Federer will receive 10,120. Murray becomes the No. 1. 

(4) If Murray wins the Cincinnati title and reaches the US Open final, and if Federer gets only to the quarter finals of both events, Murray will have 10,050 points, and Federer will end up with 9,580 points. Murray becomes No. 1. 

(5) If Murray reaches the Cincinnati quarter finals and wins the US Open title, and if Federer makes it to the Cincinnati quarter finals and US Open semifinals, Murray will receive 10,030 points, and Federer will receive 9940 points. Murray becomes the No. 1.

You can add a few more scenarios in the comments section.

Murray has an all-round game, with complete defensive package and one of the best on-the-run passing shots, but is Murray's defensive approach (junk-balling, kitchen-sink throwing, etc.) good enough to win five-setter Grand Slam semifinals and final in two consecutive days with little time in-between for rest?

It is no secret that Federer and Murray do not like each other, and they have publicly expressed their respective dislikes. Their future rivalry, if it materializes for a brief period, may turn out to be more intense. Here is an exchange of their verbal jabs:

Federer ('08 Dubai): I like to win matches not just by waiting for the other guy’s mistakes.  He [Murray] is going to have to grind very hard for the next few years if he keeps playing this way. He tends to wait a lot for the mistake of the opponent. He stands way far behind on the court and that means you've got to do a lot of running. I gave him the mistakes today but I think overall, over a 15-year career, you want to look to win a point more often than for an opponent to miss. That's what served me well over the years but who knows...

Murray ('08 Dubai): You go and watch my match against Rafael Nadal at the 2007 Australian Open, and I was playing pretty close to the baseline in that match and taking a lot of risks because I think that's the right way to play against him.. Against Federer I don't think that's the right way to play. I'm not going to play that sort of game against someone that defends as well as Federer does.

Federer ('09 Australian Open): He [Murray] has put himself into a winning position, but still, winning a Grand Slam is a different animal. But it still does surprise me the bookies say that, because he has never won a Slam (title), nor is he defending champion here. It’s surprising to hear, but we’ll see what happens.

Murray ('09 Wimbledon): A lot of the times after I have beaten him [Federer] he has said negative things about my game. It doesn’t bother me. He doesn’t lose that often and it can be tough when you go into a press conference afterwards… I don’t think if someone beats you then you can criticize the way they have played. They have always won because they have done what they needed to do.

Federer ('09 Wimbledon): When I lost to him in Shanghai [at the Masters Cup in November 2008], for example, I was ill and suffering with my back, and I still almost beat him, so I’m not about to say that he’s the best player in the world all of a sudden…I know it’s in my racket if I’m going to win Wimbledon or not.

Murray ('09 Wimbledon): Every time I have played against him I have felt like I had a good chance to win and that my tactics have worked well… A lot of times he has been very frustrated playing against me and my style of game…If we were to meet at Wimbledon then, for sure, our recent matches would have a bearing, I can take confidence from them.

Murray ('09 Montreal): ...Roger and Rafa are the two best maybe of all time. So yeah, it’s pretty special to get between them…[I'm] getting closer to hopefully one day becoming No. 1, which is one of my goals” (emphasis added).

Conclusion of the draw:

Federer will meet Murray in the semifinal, and the title will still with one of the four, Federer, Murray, Nadal, or Djokovic.

Conclusion of the No. 1 Ranking:

Federer keeps it for now, but the No. 1 ranking will be in play again by the World Tour Finals (Masters Cup), if not by Shanghai Masters Series.

 

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